Who Speaks Up for NC’s Renters?

June 12, 2023


  • About a third of NC households rent their primary residence instead of own
  • Renters tend to be younger, much more diverse, and lower income than homeowners
  • Renters’ interests are systematically ignored by lawmakers in Raleigh


Across North Carolina, approximately one-third of all households rent their dwelling, instead of own it. This rate has been relatively steady over the years, and lines up closely with national averages. People have many reasons for choosing to rent their housing, like a preference for flexibility or not wanting the long-term obligations of property ownership. But a major reason is often simply affordability.

Yet despite making up a third of all North Carolina households, renters are extremely under-represented in North Carolina’s state legislature. We are unaware of a single lawmaker in Raleigh who rents their principal residence, though there are many who own multiple properties and act as landlords. As such, renters’ specific interests – like housing affordability, tenants’ rights, and eviction policies – are marginalized to an alarming degree in state policymaking.

The reason is closely tied up in who renters themselves are, and their relative lack of representation.

Who rents?

In North Carolina and around the country, renters are significantly younger, much more racially diverse and less likely to be married than homeowners. This generally lines up with popular perceptions. Young people, who have little accumulated personal wealth, rarely own their own home. Single people, too, are much more likely to rent before getting married and buying a home together. There is also a large, and very well-documented, racial home ownership gap: only 47% of Black households in North Carolina own their home, compared to 75% of white households.

Most of these disparities come down to wealth. According to the Pew Research Center, 60.6% of renters nationally fall below the 25% percentile in income, and a whopping 87.6% fall below the 25th percentile in net worth. Only 21% of all renters have a net worth that that is in the 50th percentile or more nationally.

Most renters are not young people, as some residents of college towns might be led to believe. 65.6% of renters are over the age of 35, and over half have some family members (like a spouse, child or extended family) living with them. In other words, most renters are people in their prime working years supporting a family, and most of these simply do not have the resources to buy their own home.

Renting is still expensive

It’s no secret that rents in urban areas are higher than elsewhere. After all, people have to live near jobs centers. The ongoing economic deterioration of North Carolina’s rural counties and hypergrowth of its urban areas mean that more and more people are flocking to metro areas to build their livelihoods.

This ongoing trend is pushing rental prices higher, squeezing renters who are already much less likely to have high incomes. The graphic below is a good illustration of this trend, but it does understate “true” market rents, since it shows only the 40th percentile of Fair Market Rents in each given area (read more about FMR methodology):

Trading horror stories about rent increases is a common topic of discussion among almost any group of young professionals in metro North Carolina. Even after 2021 and 2022, when many renters encountered double-digit annual increases, rents continue to rise with no real end in sight.

The rental affordability crisis shows up in other ways, too. By comparing median household income and median rents across the state, we can determine roughly how many people are paying larger and smaller shares of their income on rent. The result is alarming: 1 in 5 renters in North Carolina are spending more than half their monthly income on rent.

Who speaks up for renters?

Rental housing costs are a function of overall housing affordability. Yet there is very little help on the way on this front from Raleigh.

A bill to permit accessory dwelling units (ADUs) statewide has been stuck in limbo in the state Senate since April. Another bill to remove minimum lot sizes never got out of committee. And the ambitious zoning reform bill introduced in the 2020-2021 legislative session was not brought up at all this year.


One bill that has seen movement was House Bill 551, a bill that actively hurts tenants, especially those with low incomes. HB 551 would explicitly permit landlords to discriminate against renters using housing assistance, like federal Section 8 vouchers or even veterans' benefits. It also allows landlords to go after tenants who appeal an eviction and recover attorneys' fees. It passed the state House with unanimous Republican support, and even picked up several Democratic votes as well. The bill now sits in the state Senate, pending further action.

Renters face structural challenges in making their voices heard in North Carolina's halls of power. They are, by nature, more transitory. Renters have no built-in advocacy mechanism, like a union or industry association. There is no "renters PAC" or single voice. Renters themselves have a wide range of political orientations, which are not at all unanimous in a partisan sense. Across multiple dimensions - age, race, and wealth - their interests are systematically overlooked by many politicians.

Yet renters remain a huge swath of the North Carolina electorate. If they chose to use that power to advance their interests in a coherent way, they could be a massively powerful constituency for any leader who spoke up for them.


The Road to Home: Fair and Affordable Housing for North Carolina is our policy whitepaper that outlines 4 key areas of reform for state policymakers to expand housing affordability. Let's give every North Carolinian a chance to find their way home.

Help build progress for North Carolina.

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PO Box 452, Carrboro, NC 27510

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